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Dublin: 16 °C Friday 3 July, 2020
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A tribute to the Class of 2020: How one group of teachers marked the end of school for sixth years

As schools end an academic year in the Covid-19 pandemic, a group of secondary teachers in Tallaght had to pay tribute to their students.

Old Bawn Teachers

IT’S BEEN A strange few weeks and months for everyone. Our way of life, how we interact with family and friends, how we work and study has all changed because of the coronavirus.

As teachers, we were no different to any other profession in that we had to make swift changes to how we worked and operated, moving the classroom from the school premises to the ‘virtual classroom’.

Ours is a mixed secondary school in Tallaght, Dublin where the sense of community is central to our ethos. There are 918 pupils in the school. Moving lessons to online sounds simple, and while we had been working using the Microsoft suite in the school for the past few years, we were phasing in the use whilst gradually training both teachers and students alike. So we had to accelerate that process.

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The students have found it challenging throughout, tackling the overnight change from being with peers and teachers in class to being at home all day. The upheaval of all of that, finding themselves suddenly working from home and unable to go out to see others, was a big ask of these children. It was a big ask for the whole country.

They have sometimes been completing lessons on phones and shared devices, which can be challenging at times. Along with all the immediate changes, finding themselves at home, students around the country have been dealing with uncertainty around the state exams. It’s been important for us throughout the debate around the Leaving Cert to keep students calm and focused, no matter what. Through all of this, they have been just wonderful, we’re so proud of them all as they have tried their best with their limited resources.

A new way of teaching

From our point of view, teaching the class from home requires a lot of logistical planning and management, as well as daily attempts to keep morale up and make sure everyone remains engaged. In order for our students to have continuity, we needed teachers, SNAs, Student Support team and ancillary staff. There are no words to describe the work that they have done since the school closed on 12 March.

Staff have embraced online teaching, a complete upheaval in their timetable as we moved towards blended learning, encouraging and motivating students to engage, continuing to support those with additional needs and they themselves learning how to teach online. Our staff are nothing short of phenomenal.

Teachers preparing to disperse to 125 households Teachers preparing to distribute to 125 homes. Source: Old Bawn Community School

Normally, at this time of year, the school would be a hive of activity planning prepping for graduation, the annual teachers vs students football match which would see the teachers winning yet again, debs tickets arriving and the infamous bouncy castle day where students and teachers alike get to relax and enjoy each other’s company one last time.

Students and teachers who have been working together through highs and lows get to reminisce on the years gone past, recalling the fond memories, the funny moments and the tough times that all happen in a school.

Then there was Covid-19

However, this year is different. There are no bouncy castles or laughing teachers and students on our corridors. Despite weeks of uncertainty and waiting, when the decision to cancel the Leaving Cert finally came, it moved things along quickly.

Because of the new calculated grades system, teachers and pupils were asked to step away from the curriculum. It meant our sixth years didn’t get the opportunity to say goodbye to their teachers. This is because contact stopped as teachers prepared to estimate their students’ grades for the Leaving Certificate. Students were devastated and contacted the Senior Leadership team asking when they could say thank you to their teachers and if they would be given the opportunity to say goodbye.

This week, our term ends and with that, the Class of 2020 finishes school but we couldn’t let them leave with no fanfare, no final assemblies, no inspirational speeches.

Our staff thought about what we could do to help our students celebrate all their hard work, despite the tough situation they’re in at the moment. We discussed many options in our graduation team meetings and were unanimous about the fact that our students deserved an extraordinary graduation celebration to match these extraordinary times. It was paramount that we could make a fuss of them while at a distance.

Head Boy Joshua Whitney with Ms. McCarthy Head Boy Joshua Whitney with Ms. McCarthy Source: Old Bawn Community School

Students were informed that the graduation would happen online and they were sceptical at first. They desperately wanted the traditional graduation and we really felt for them so promised them that they wouldn’t be disappointed. That’s when we really got thinking. 

Outside the box, onto the road

We decided to drop off 125 packages to each graduating student’s front door, within guidelines and doing it safely.

Students received their framed Graduation certificate, their yearbook, a personalised candle, their academic awards, a balloon, graduation keyring and some sweet treats to enjoy at their online Graduation.

It took a whole day to do it. Each teacher drove around the area in their own cars and delivered the package to the pupils, who were waiting at the door. We were thrilled with the response from each student and feel it made a big difference to their wellbeing. We wanted to let them know how much we appreciated them. It gave our staff a great boost, too.

The students were then invited to attend their Graduation online which has been weeks in the making. With the school choir performing a song, the classes still choosing their symbol and song to represent them, the trip down memory lane still happens.

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It may seem the only missing piece is everyone’s physical presence in the school but when you are a community like the Old Bawn Community School we know we are all still together so our jigsaw is complete.

Old Bawn Community School is in Tallaght, Dublin.

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Old Bawn Teachers

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